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Boulder Computer Maven Newsletter - February 2012

Dear Friends,

This is my customer newsletter, containing information that I hope will help you use your computer more enjoyably, safely, and efficiently. Previous newsletters are available on the newsletters page of the Boulder Computer Maven web site.

This month's topic is software updates: what they are, why it's importantto install them, and how to know which ones are safe. I'll describe the main types of updates and how they work.

If you change your E-mail address, please send me your new one. If you don't want to receive this newsletter, let me know, and I'll remove your name from my mailing list.

For questions or comments, or to schedule an appointment for help with your Windows PC, Internet connection, wireless network, iPad, Kindle, or Kindle Fire, please call me at 303-444-8247.

Best Wishes,
Steve Winograd

Helping People Use Computers in Boulder for Over 25 Years

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You've probably seen it many times: A message appears on the screen saying that some type of update is available. Many users just ignore the message until it goes away, because they don't want to be interrupted, don't know what the update is, and don't know whether it's safe to install the update.

Updates come into your computer through your Internet connection and make changes to programs that run on your computer. Here are the three most common types of updates, which I explain in more detail below:

Why It's Important to Install Updates

Software updates typically add features, fix errors, or improve the safety and security of programs. Security updates fix critical errors that could allow Internet-based criminal gangs to break into your computer, steal your personal information, and take remote control of your computer without your knowledge. It's important to install security updates as soon as they become available. The publicity about a security update can cause criminals to increase their efforts to take advantage of a critical error that it fixes, making computers that don't have the update even more vulnerable.

Windows Updates and Microsoft Updates

Windows Update makes changes to the Windows (XP, Vista, or 7) operating system that runs on your computer. Microsoft Update makes changes to the Windows operating system and to Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

To make sure that your computer gets these updates as soon as they become available, follow the steps in the Microsoft Support article How to configure and use Automatic Updates in Windows. If you decide to install updates manually (not recommended), check for updates frequently by clicking Start > All Programs > Windows Update.

Application Updates

Applications are programs that you install on your computer, usually after downloading them from the creator's web site. Here are the most common applications that install updates. The first three have long histories of critical errors that criminals can use to attack computers, requiring frequent security updates:

Computer Vendor Updates

Some computer manufactures, such as HP and Asus, include programs on their computers that check for and install updates. See your computer's user manual for details.

How to Tell if an Update is Safe

The updates described above typically start by showing an icon in the notification area -- the row of small icons, usually at the bottom right of the screen, next to the date and time. A balloon might pop up out of that icon. Clicking the icon or the balloon brings up a new window that starts the update process.

For pictures of these icons and windows, please see the Software Updates page that I've created on the Boulder Computer Maven web site.

If you ever have a question about whether to install an update that your computer offers, please phone me. I'll be happy to answer your update question at no cost.